Eleanor Oliphant Is What We Need

In 2017, 40-year-old author Gail Honeyman entered a story about a lonely and damaged young girl into a writing competition. Now winner of the Costa First Novel Award and scheduled to become Reese Witherspoon’s next film project, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine has become a triumph for modern literature.

Our heroine, Eleanor, is evidently not at all fine. She often goes home from work on Friday and doesn’t speak to another person until she arrives at work on Monday morning. She is a source of amusement amongst her colleagues, and many modern advances are completely lost on her. “D’you like a smoky eye?” The makeup assistant at Bobbi Brown asks, to which Eleanor replies, “I don’t like anything to do with smoking.”

At the background of it all, her manipulative mother is an ominous presence looming at the end of the phone, hinting at a darkness in Eleanor’s past that may be the explanation for her isolation and uniqueness.

When Eleanor and Raymond, an IT consultant in her office, witness an elderly man falling unconscious in the street, an unlikely friendship begins to form between them. Somewhat hesitantly, Eleanor opens up to the possibility that people genuinely want to spend time with her, and with Raymond’s friendship comes a growing sense of self-assurance.

As we are introduced to Eleanor’s quirky persona, she initially appears very hostile to strangers and speaks her mind with seemingly no understanding of the consequences: “You’ll die years earlier than you would have otherwise, probably from cancer…you’ve already got the smoker’s characteristically dull, prematurely lined skin.” However, as we spend more time with Eleanor it becomes very clear that she has had nobody to help her align with societal norms – she was a confused child passed from carer to carer until university at seventeen. How can anybody blame her for reacting how many of us would were it not for our awareness of social politeness? Not only that, but being surrounded by unkindness and ridicule, it must be a natural reaction to close up and use that barrier of separation as a form of protection.

While Eleanor’s confidently naïve observations of the world can be enormously funny, the humour is threaded with heartbreak. At seeing her reflection after a new haircut she thanks the stylist for “making her shiny”. Having been surrounded by damaging and neglectful people all her life, becoming introduced to kind individuals is a foreign but welcomed concept for her.

Honeyman has created a character that is somehow completely fresh and new among literary heroines, and yet can be related to in countless ways. It has been commented that chronic loneliness is a very real problem for elderly people, but it never seems to be addressed among younger generations. Why must age be a contributing factor to a feeling of isolation? Eleanor has had a very troubled childhood and adolescence, but even those of us with caring families are capable of feeling lonely. In fact, according to a 2018 report by the Office for National Statistics, almost 10% of people aged 16-24 said they “always or often” felt lonely. This statistic was over three times higher than for those aged 65 or more.

This novel undoubtedly speaks to many young people, including myself. I have struggled with loneliness in the past – a desire for new friends coupled with fierce insecurity in social situations has made meeting new people a real challenge, and it is something I continue to struggle with. Loneliness can be incredibly upsetting, and is often hard to recognise in someone experiencing it. Honeyman has succeeded in raising awareness of the issue with her original and deeply moving novel, outlining the importance of kindness and compassion.

Give the Public Proper Nature, BBC!

I was scanning the Science headlines in BBC News recently and saw a piece about a family of squirrels in Edinburgh. Immediately I presumed the problem was the American greys causing more havoc with our native reds. After a year studying Wildlife Media and being told that many of the issues in our British countryside are the result of grey squirrels and sheep, I am automatically ready for more doom and gloom.

I was surprised therefore to discover that this story was a heartwarming one, of a family of albino squirrels that had taken up residence in an elderly man’s back garden. There were at least four of the snowy-furred mammals bouncing around on the grass. The film coverage by Cameron Buttle was less than two minutes long, but throughout the entire clip not one mention was made about how destructive the introduced grey squirrels have been in the UK.

I have the distinct impression that although science and environment is being covered in new stories, the content is very PG. Stories such as that of the squirrel are made frivolous, fun little stories that are mentioned at the very end of news coverage. It’s little wonder that so few of us are informed of the problems that are becoming more and more severe, such as the impact of grey squirrels on populations of red squirrels. The greys are larger and can survive in much denser populations than reds. According to Red Squirrels Northern England, “greys [can] achieve up to 15 individuals per hectare… and reds up to 2-3 per hectare”. In many cases, greys outcompete reds for food and territory.

And then there’s the disease. Grey squirrels are carriers of the squirrelpox virus, which has proved devastating to the more vulnerable reds, with the majority dying 15 days after having been exposed to the virus (Northern Red Squirrels, 2015).

Sadly, there was no mention of deadly skin ulcers or facial swelling in Buttle’s charming little article. The owner of the garden was described as a “lifelong nature lover”, yet didn’t seem perturbed by an invasive species taking over his lawn. In fact, he told the BBC he was “pleased and happy” about the new arrivals.

Why does the BBC dumb down its nature reports? Wildlife is a topic that desperately needs more coverage and exposure in the media, so why only include the “cute” stories and not the serious ones that desperately need addressing? Or, if there must be a heartwarming element, there could at least be some reality too.

Read this for more information on the squirrelpox virus, or visit the BBC to watch the clip on albino squirrels.

Help for the Hazel Dormouse

I was sad to wake up to some disheartening news about the hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) yesterday. According to a new report by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, the native population of this mouse species has dropped a third in sixteen years.

The hazel dormouse is now only found in parts of southern England and the Welsh borders and is currently “vulnerable to extinction in Britain”. The reasons for their decline include agricultural practices, loss of hedgerow habitat, alterations to woodland management methods and the consequent fragmentation of this woodland.

To thrive, dormice need areas of woodland connected by hedgerows; these wildlife corridors enable them to spread. They also build their ball-shaped nests in these hedgerows and use the woodland cover to hibernate from October to May. Hazel dormice did particularly well when the trees were coppiced. This management technique involved cutting a tree to its base and leaving it; when the tree regrew it branched into two separate trunks, providing more fruit for the mice to feed on. However, in many cases the areas of woodland changed too quickly for the mice to adapt. Two thirds of native hedgerow were lost, leaving the mice that survived isolated from food sources and other mice to breed with.

For the past 25 years, the People’s Trust for Endangered Species has been running the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme (NDMP). Several hundred monitors have the important responsibility of carrying out surveys using dormouse boxes and recording their sightings. Anyone interested in becoming a monitor would need to obtain a dormouse licence from Natural England or Natural Resources Wales. However, the Trust also accepts one-off sightings via the National Dormouse Database, so anyone can help the valuable work the Trust is doing. As dormice are protected by government and regarded as a priority for conservation action, the monitoring of a used nest box requires a licence.

The Trust have also carried out 24 reintroductions, meaning the dormice are now present in six of the counties in which they had previously been extinct. Although the reintroduced populations have died at five of the chosen sites, at another five the individuals successfully spread through their new woodland habitat. At another seven of the sites, the dormice ventured further into the woodland and into the surrounding farmland, making their reintroduction a huge success. Following a reintroduction in June 2015, evidence of breeding has been gathered, including footage of a young dormouse getting to grips with climbing trees. The short clip by Lorna Griffiths is well worth the watch.

Anyone wanting to know more about the dormouse reintroductions can follow the link to the Natural England website. Although I was sad to hear that hazel dormice are struggling, the news prompted me to research and write this post, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning more about these enchanting animals.

A Visit To The Park

Last Friday some of the Wildlife Media crew met with Dave Pearson, a green space officer for Carlisle City Council. We learnt all about St James’ Park in Carlisle, and what Dave’s position entails there.

A combination of communal space and formal shrub areas, St James’ Park is an urban park, dating back to the Victorian/Edwardian boundary. During this time parks were developed by entrepreneurs, to allow people to get away from the work place. Dave told us it was for “enjoying the opportunity to get out into nature and wildlife.” However, society has changed drastically since then. Nowadays, people visit parks to walk their dogs, let their children play on the slides and swings, and play sports such as football or ride their bikes over the BMX track that has been installed. There is currently no protection on the site. However, by being classed as green space, no building can take place there.

Dave’s job is to “balance the needs of the community with the urban wildlife reservoir” that is clearly present at St James’ Park. Being a freelance ecologist, he is well informed of the wildlife that inhabits the site, and how it should be conserved. “The park acts as a corridor” he told us, “wildlife travels from one area to another. When there are pockets of wildlife that aren’t interconnected, how will they recover if subjected to environmental pressure?” In the middle of a main city, it’s vital that wildlife in St James’ Park can move from one area to another without getting trapped. The park extends across a main road, but aside from this hazard the wildlife has plenty of access to trees for nesting and open spaces for gathering food.

Dave is involved in several different aspects of management. He carries out site safety inspections and is also involved in allotments. The bushes in the shrub areas are not allowed to grow out of control, but carefully maintained to provide a suitable habitat for nesting and foraging birds. “Wildlife always thrives when it’s allowed to live without disturbance,” Dave told us. There are a wide variety of trees in the park, including silver birch, elm, ash, goat willow, weeping willow and mature poplars on the banks.

A lot of Dave’s work involves raising awareness. It’s about providing the context to educate the public on necessary wildlife issues. Dave told us about the importance of stinging nettles for species such as Peacock butterflies. However, in a public park where children come to play, it is understandable that many parents wouldn’t want patches of nettles nearby. It’s difficult to provide a suitable environment for both wildlife and people, when their separate needs vary.

It was really interesting hearing the challenges Dave faces when trying to maintain and manage St James’ Park. While it currently provides ample opportunities for families and young people, he also needs to consider the welfare of the animals, birds and plants that inhabit the site. So far, he seems to be finding the balance; when I was there on Friday I could hear and see a wide range of species. I hope this park and others across the country will continue to allow people and wildlife to coexist happily!

Experiencing Ennerdale

At the edge of Cumbria’s Lake District National Park lies Ennerdale Valley, a site of vast ecological restoration and astonishing beauty. The plan is “to allow the evolution of Ennerdale as a wild valley for the benefit of people, relying more on natural processes to shape its landscape and ecology” (Wild Ennerdale, 2016).



Wild Ennerdale is an on-going partnership between the National Trust, the Forestry Commission and United Utilities. There are several objectives for the site, including changes to farming, forestry, transport and water extraction. Our guide for the morning, Gareth Browning, works for the Forestry Commission, and took us on a whistle-stop tour of part of the valley. We walked for almost seven hours and barely scratched the surface.



“It’s more about us stepping back,” Gareth explained, “It’s about working alongside natural processes. Sometimes they speak louder than we can act.” It was inspiring to see an individual so keen on working for a brighter future, with nature in mind. All too often profit is the main concern. With Ennerdale, wildlife is the priority. As I walked around I realised I had visited very few wildlife locations I would consider completely wild with next to no human intervention. Most nature reserves have trodden down paths, numerous hides and bustling visitor centres. Out in the Valley, I felt like I’d disconnected from day-to-day existence. It was invigorating.



Initially the creation of Wild Ennerdale had some problems. Parts of the farming community have and continue to struggle to follow the concepts. “Some believe that high density sheep grazing is part of the Lake District culture,” Gareth told us. True, when I think of the Lakes sheep spring to mind, especially the innocent faces of the Herdies. However, it is without a doubt that sheep are a hindrance to wildlife, not a help. They act as living, breathing lawnmowers, gobbling away at the countryside and leaving a barren wasteland in their wake.

In response to the problem, Wild Ennerdale have decided to move from intensive sheep grazing to extensive cattle grazing in the valley instead. It is thought that they bring a positive impact to local habitats, as a result of their eating habits. Unlike sheep, cows are not selective when choosing what to eat, and their bulk has benefits too. By walking through bracken, cows can break up dead material and form paths through the vegetation. In addition, their size prevents them from accessing difficult steeper terrain, allowing parts of the land to continue growing ungrazed. This results in a patchwork effect, instead of the total disruption that sheep produce.

This change in livestock management seems to be taking effect. After conducting a ten-year-long survey from 2006 to this year, there has been a 50% increase in the abundance of bird species in the valley bottom, where sheep previously grazed. No doubt this is as a result of increased diversity of vegetation, allowing a greater insect population and attracting more birds to the area. It’s great to see that the work Wild Ennerdale is conducting is bringing about positive change.


Aside from the few human interventions, such as the introduction of cattle, Ennerdale remains fairly wild. But what exactly does wild mean? It seems everyone has a unique definition. To Gareth, “wildness is a human perception, not what nature feels.” He explained that most people compare natural surroundings to their urban life, so essentially all green spaces are wild in comparison to tarmac, metal and plastic. A red squirrel, Gareth pointed out, doesn’t consider its home wild; it’s what it has always been used to. The majority of us are just too accustomed to living in concrete jungles instead of real ones, so any change of environment seems like we’re in the wilderness, when in fact man has still made its mark in many different ways.


  • Wild Ennerdale (2016) Our Vision. Available at: http://www.wildennerdale.co.uk/about/our-vision/ (Accessed: 13 March 2016)

In The Wildwood

My degree course is fabulous. I get to spend every other Friday on a walk in the wild and it’s considered good work. A few Fridays ago, I had the chance to visit Carrifran Wildwood, situated in the Moffat Hills of southern Scotland.


In association with the John Muir Trust, the team working on the site – mostly volunteers – essentially aim to plant as many trees as they can, in an attempt to rewild the area. They have planted over half a million trees over the first ten years of work. As of spring 2007, a large area of shrubs was also planted. According to the site plan, this will eventually become one of the “very few extensive areas of treeline woodland and montane scrub in Britain” (Carrifran Wildwood, 2012).


It was inspiring to see such dedicated work being done on the site. Our guide told us how volunteers spend days planting tree after tree, working tirelessly to rewild both themselves and their surroundings. She explained the problems they were encountering with a lack of volunteers. It is difficult to strike a balance between promoting the site enough to inform people of the work that needs doing, while simultaneously avoiding too much advertising to keep the site as natural as possible and prevent an onslaught of tourists trampling the ground and disturbing the wildlife. There must be a happy equilibrium between the two.



I think media is a tool that can be used to both help and hinder conservation. While it’s incredibly useful for encouraging donation from the public, it can spill too many secrets, and end up attracting more than necessary attention to delicate sites of nature that cannot cope with excessive human use.  As a media student, I want to find a way to write and photograph for positive effect to help more and more people enjoy the natural world that they live in.


Please visit the Carrifran Wildwood website for more information on the valuable work they are carrying out there.


  • Carrifran Wildwood (2012) What we have achieved. Available at: http://www.carrifran.org.uk/about/what-we-have-achieved/ (Accessed: 6 March 2016)


The Controversy of Langholm Moor

To broaden my understanding of the conservation work that is going on around me, I visited Langholm Moor in Dumfries and Galloway. The moor is a man-made habitat and has been completely deforested. It is home to an ongoing project to resolve the controversy regarding raptors and grouse. Grouse shooting is the main source of income for the site, and raptors such as the Red-listed Hen Harrier are being persecuted for predating on multiple grouse species. I got to meet Simon Lester, one of the site’s gamekeepers until his recent retirement. He showed me round the site and explained some of the problems the moor is experiencing.

Langholm Moor by day
Gamekeeper Simon Lester

The Demonstration Project on the moor aims to restore “grouse moor management… as a way of meeting the conservation objectives of the site” (Langholm Moor Demonstration Project, 2010). There are several elements to the programme:

The habitat will be controlled using measures such as heather burning, heather restoration and control of livestock and feral goats. The heather is burnt down for several reasons. Simon explained that the grouse can only feed on heather when it is cut short. Also, heavy grazing from livestock in past years has severely reduced the quality of the heather that grows on the moor, so it is regularly reseeded and sprayed with fertiliser. I asked Simon how he controls the burning process, as it seems an extreme way to manage heather growth. In response, he said burning is a lot easier than cutting, but occasionally they do lose control of the flames. The process needs to be carefully planned and carried out over time in a mosaic pattern, so as to keep a variety of heather plots of different ages.

There are now no sheep present on the moor, but a small population of feral goats remains. In past years a mass culling of some four hundred individuals was carried out, leaving two hundred goats remaining. While the population size has now undoubtedly increased since then, goats are a lot less damaging to vegetation than sheep who, to quote George Monbiot, leave the habitat “sheep-wrecked” (Monbiot, G., 2013).

Another part of the project involves controlling populations of predators that prey on the grouse. While common species such as foxes, crows and stoats are culled on site, protected species such as the hen harrier are unaffected. Simon showed me a snare used to trap foxes. By law, the snares need to have stops fitted, which lock the snare mechanism and avoid strangling the animal. Simon makes a daily round of some three hundred snares, and shoots any trapped foxes he finds. This is a more humane approach to dealing with the problem, a combination of the stop-fitted snares and a quick death.

Trap used for mustelids (weasels and stoats)

Measures to control disease amongst grouse have been put into place on the moor. Simon explained how birds such as grouse digest the fibrous food they eat by swallowing grit found naturally on moorland. To combat the nematode worm Trichostrongylus, which has a devastating effect on grouse numbers, gamekeepers provide the birds with medicated grit, which protects them against infection and prevents crashes in populations. However, as stated on the Raptor Persecution Scotland blog (2015), grouse often deposit faecal matter in the grit boxes, which can result in the spreading of disease. When I visited Langholm Moor, there was faeces present in the box Simon showed us, suggesting perhaps that there are flaws to the plan and in fact disease can still be spread even with the medicated grit.

Box of medicated grit

Another measure to conserve the grouse on the moor is diversionary feeding. This involves providing food for nesting hen harriers to deter them from predating on grouse chicks. For the first two to three months of the breeding period, gamekeepers provide carrion – namely rats and cockerel chicks from nearby farms – for the harriers to lessen grouse predation. This seems effective, but Simon told us the technique doesn’t actually affect grouse numbers, as the population tends to decrease in winter not summer. Therefore, the expense required to feed the harriers seems largely wasteful, if there is no measured improvement in grouse stock.

Post upon which carrion is placed, white post in background indicates hen harrier nest
Bonus find: vole skull

So where does Simon want the project to go? He wants to see all buzzards killed, as the species is so abundant. The priority on the moor is grouse, and any species that threatens its wellbeing is either culled or, in the case of the protected hen harrier, discouraged from including grouse in their diet.

The sun sets over the moor

After visiting Langholm Moor, I am left with mixed feelings. Simon seemed such a passionate naturalist with knowledge of a broad range of species, yet he supports the death of a native British species for sport. The grouse that are shot on the moor are left where they fall, not even eaten. I am not a vegetarian, and believe that we as a race were designed to eat meat, but killing animals for the pleasure alone is a travesty. How different is this to poaching lions? Money changes hands, a bullet is fired. Perhaps I have not yet grasped the full intentions of the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project, but from what I have learnt on the trip and during my research for this post, I have come to the conclusion that sustaining an area of upland moor by shooting a species that lives in it, seems a very sad way to maintain our country’s biodiversity. It just goes to show how little our government cares for wildlife, when grouse shooting is the only source of income for a site of nature.


Learning from Monbiot

One of my university modules, Wildlife Conservation in the UK, often addresses the topic of rewilding, a relatively new concept that has rapidly become a hot topic in ecology and conservation. I’d heard of rewilding previous to starting my degree course, but my understanding of it was limited. Our lecturer told us about George Monbiot, a rather outspoken but incredibly valuable contributor to conservation. Monbiot writes for the Guardian and has published multiple books, including Feral: “Searching for Enchantment on the Frontiers of Rewilding” (Monbiot, 2011).

Once Feral arrived, I started the first chapter as late night bedtime reading, but after six pages I decided to wait until morning. I could tell it was going to be a book that required my full concentration, and I wanted to give it the attention it deserved.

After hearing the term ‘rewilding’ for the first time, I constructed my own definition. To me it meant repopulating habitats with species that dwelt there in times past, in an attempt to reawaken lifeless ecosystems and attempt to reverse some of the damage we have caused through our use of fishing nets, saws and rifles. I defined rewilding as increasing biodiversity, giving things more wildlife so to speak, going back to how the world used to look before mankind exploited its resources.

Monbiot describes it differently. Instead of restoring ecosystems to a previous state, rewilding will “permit ecological processes to continue” (Monbiot, 2013). The natural world is ever changing – predator/ prey interaction, intraspecific competition (members of the same species competing for food or mates), as well as constant seasonal changes that in many cases affect the survival of the animals and plants that depend on resources that may or may not be available. Rewilding then is not a case of trying to prevent an ecosystem from deteriorating by injecting a new predator or top herbivore. Instead, it should be about providing the protection that enables the ecosystem to recover itself, without further interruption from us. Monbiot describes it as “resisting the urge to control nature and allowing it to find its own way.” This makes perfect sense to me. We have caused crippling destruction to our planet – what could we possibly know about replenishing the habitats we have had no respect for? We should step back and let rejuvenation occur without excessive input from us.

If rewilding is successful, I share the view of Monbiot that the ecosystems that emerge afterwards may not necessarily be what they were originally. Instead, they may evolve in a countless number of ways, making the concept of rewilding such an interesting one. We cannot be certain what the outcomes will be. “While conservation often looks to the past” Monbiot explained, with regards to how we strive to restore aspects of nature to what they were, “rewilding of this kind looks to the future”.

There is also the possibility of rewilding human life, where we adapt our way of living to experience what life was like before technology took hold of us in its metal fist. Again, there is a balance to be struck. We do not need to abandon the extensive progress we have made, but simply adopt some more old-fashioned ways of life simultaneously. Relinquishing all that science has achieved would be madness; there must be a way we can still benefit from modern living and at the same time appreciate a wilder, more adventurous side of life. Here in his book Monbiot quotes Byron: “Love not man the less, but Nature more” (1818).

I can tell Feral is going to be a really insightful and intriguing addition to my bookshelf. It was so interesting reading Monbiot’s opinion on the topic. I’ve come to realise that I didn’t quite appreciate the scope of rewilding and just how much it will affect our way of life if it’s carried out successfully.


  • Byron, G. (1818) ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’, Verse 178.
  • Monbiot, G. (2011) Books. Available at: http://www.monbiot.com/books/ (Accessed: 22 February 2016)
  • Monbiot, G. (2013) Feral. London: Penguin Books.

A Heartfelt Wish

As I was researching for my next assignment on Conservation in the UK, I visited the RSPB website and stumbled upon a Vimeo link.

“I Wish For You” is a film written by Michael Morpurgo and brought to the screen by The Climate Coalition. Five minutes in length, it features Jeremy Irons writing his granddaughter a letter, encouraging her to continue loving the planet and emphasising the drastic action needed to prevent complete destruction. The film also features Maxine Peake as the granddaughter grown up.

This film gave me goosebumps. While the child’s play and beautiful imagery were light-hearted, the underlying message was incredibly sad. For me, Jeremy Irons’ character reflected the planet: both seem tired and and defeated. Perhaps Morpurgo wanted to humanise the planet to encourage more sympathy towards it – usually we as a race seem to feel more sorry for ourselves than birds, fish or trees.

“If we don’t care for it, this good Earth of ours will be as arid and lifeless as the moon… Our Earth is a living, breathing being, and we must hurt her no more.”

The message of the film was clear. Children are who we need to inspire. The cynical and stubborn amongst us will never be persuaded to love and try to help something they have never cared for. Children are open to any possibility – to them the world is full of magic and wonder. All animals and plants are friends to be made, playmates to run and laugh with. With so little time left, we need to inspire the next generation of naturalists to continue the battle for the planet.

Upon hearing the news that the Western Black Rhino has now been slaughtered to extinction, I begin to fear what our planet will have to offer our children and our children’s children in the not too distant future. Will the only tigers they get to see be either printed on paper or in cages? How many animals will they not be able to recognise, that to us seem everyday sights? In a ever diminishing world, we need to employ the help of the youth to light a new spark in the conservation effort.

Please watch and share I Wish For You  – a beautiful cry for action.